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July 26, 2010

The death of Stephen Pitcairn and the court system

Stephen Pitcairn had come to Baltimore from his home in Florida, after attending college in Michigan and working with stem cells in Japan, where he became fluent in the language. Here, he assisted with breast cancer studies at the Johns Hopkins University and was poised to enroll in medical school.

He was four blocks from his Charles Village apartment Sunday night when two robbers took his life for cash and a cell phone.

Pitcairn had been in New York, hitching one of the cheap buses to visit his sister, according to a friend. He was on the phone with his mother when police say two robbers approached and demanded money. Police say his mother heard the robbery.

Pitcairn's death is likely to have a ripple effect on the Hopkins community for years to come, but the focus in the short-term at least is likely to shift to the suspects. Records obtained by The Baltimore Sun show that one of the suspects, John A. Wagner, had been charged in April with a robbery where he intimated that he was a member of the Black Guerilla Family gang, which seems tied to just about everything these days. But the charge was dropped the next month at the District Court level after the victim did not appear in court. The case is almost certain to touch off finger-pointing between prosecutors, who say police turn over flawed investigations, and police, who prosecutors are often too quick to roll over and drop charges.

It wasn't the first time Wagner got in trouble with the law, however. Court records show a car theft conviction from October 2009 in which he received 2 years in prison but served no time. Two years ago, he was convicted for assault, receiving an eight year suspended sentence. He violated his probation in that case three separate times, with each case resulting in a continuing of his probation.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III earlier this year about violent offenders who are put on probation but face no penalties when found in violation.

He told me believed that it was a simple matter of enforcing the conditions imposed by the court. Setting probation terms without enforcing them, particularly involving those who have been determined to be the state's most violent, sends a poor message to offenders, he said.

"I've heard many judges say, 'I'm going to suspend this sentence and give you probation, and heaven help you if you violate my conditions,' " said Bealefeld, raising his voice in frustration. "Do what you said you would do!"


Posted by Justin Fenton at 9:44 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Gangs, North Baltimore


Or maybe the media wants to provoke finger pointing between prosecutors and police because you won't have anything else to report on otherwise. The media is the biggest offender when it comes to creating and stoking animosity between law enforcement officials because it gets attention. The reason that the case was dropped has nothing to do with either police or prosecutors. It rests solely on the witness who did not have the courage to come to court and identify his attacker. Without that witness, there is nothing that either police or prosecutors could have done with that case.

Maybe the media should take responsibility for its own contribution to the mess this city is in. You fan the flames of dissent between various law enforcement officials, you rush to judgment and convict police officers accused of misconduct without research and without investigation, and before official channels have finished with their investigations, and you give jurors in this city every reason in the world not to convict dangerous criminals, often by reporting inaccurate and skewed information.

But I don't think anyone who works for the Sun is self aware enough to acknowledge that their irresponsible reporting has contributed to tragedies like this as much as anything.

It's already begun. When asked why prosecutors dropped the case (and they've asked us, rightfully so, to always seek clarity on why a case was dropped), we were sent an unrelated memo addressed to Mayor Dixon about how police could better improve robbery investigations. Commissioner Bealefeld is on record saying "It can't always be our fault" when cases are dropped and saying that prosecutors don't try hard to enough to grind out a tough case.
If by trying to figure out why cases are dropped the media is stoking these tensions, I plead guilty. The only issue really is how much of this is a healthy give-and-take between two agencies that work in tandem or how much can be considered sniping. -JF

Keep fighting the good fight JF. Harve seems to be a little too concerned with the media and not concerned enough about this person's family, the crime that occurred, and who is ultimately responsible.

The media *should* provoke an interaction between two parties responsible for bringing people to justice. This is healthy. Have you ever heard of checks and balances, Harve? The truth shouldn't hurt - it just "is".

With regards to the previous charge, to speculate that the police and DA were not responsible and the fault rests on the absent witness is grossly misplaced and reckless. The police and DA are responsible for creating a safe environment for witnesses to come forward to play their role in our justice system - end of story.

My condolences to the victim's family and friends.

Hopefully this time the perps will disappear from society and harm no more.

You slack jawed clock watchers that allowed this criminal freedom will have to live with your misdeeds for eternity.

" their irresponsible reporting has contributed to tragedies like this as much as anything."

So Harve, you are saying the thugs who murdered Pitcairn are just half responsible. I'd love to walk that neighborhood with you.

What annoys me about this is that it gets attention because it's Charles Village and he was a tech, and he had a mother etc. etc. etc. ALL the people murdered in this city deserve the SAME level of attention in the media. What has been strangely missing in media reports of this person's death is his RACE. ALmost every other homicide folk are ready to jump right out there and say "black man" - but let's face it those people appear to be throw aways as we see "black man" is their moniker and identity. Not "son phoning home to mother in Florida" or "JHU promising student" (to be fair in John Crowder's death everyone jumped all over his "basketballness"). Point is I'm willing to bet this victim is NOT black - you can just sense it (no pics of him btw anywhere?)

Also, about the bus stop... If the city had any f-ing brains they would make MVP bus people clean up that spot on Charles (just north of North Ave.) and make it safe by at least demanding that they LIGHT IT at night. It's right in the middle of prostitute central at an abandoned gas station. Real safe. Same goes for the Bolt bus on St. Paul. Who monitors and authorizes this crap anyways. Reducing crime is about COMPREHENSIVE strategies which include not providing opportunities.

So Wagner should have been locked up twice over, but served no time at all on at 2-year and an 8-year? Why was he free to commit another crime? Forget rolling over and dropping charges, who is responsible for following through on actually putting these people behind bars?

I knew Stephen Pitcarin since he was in elementary school. He was an extremely intellegent, kindhearted and loving young boy and young man. He was full of promise and goodness. Stephen was cooperative and gave the robbers/murders everything they asked for and then they cold bloodily murdered him. The wonderful things Stephen would have done for our society, stem cell research, advancements in breast cancer.

All victims. regardless of race or ethic background should receive equal attention from the media and law enforcement.

Our court system in this state is one of the weakest in the USA. We are way too lenient, and its one big revolving door.

Justin, I appreciate your reporting on this and the focus on the victim as well as the community's loss when the justice system fails. It is a shame that the comments do not match the caliber of your reporting.

The police routinely tell the public to give up whatever belongings are demanded in a robbery, so that this victim did that and still ended up stabbed in the chest is very scary to ordinary Baltimoreans, all of whom have had a robbery somewhere in or near their neighborhood. I would be interested to hear more about the witness' statement that three people were observed possibly in a fight.

I am impressed that Northern got such quick arrests, though I suspect it is because these individuals were known to them, on their radar for being dangers in their community, even though prosecutors never came to the same conclusion.

Not to blame any victim, but the stretch from Penn Station to Pitcairn's address is not one I would describe as short; these are long City blocks. And what sits inbetween is a very bad area, encompassing as one poster noted a high-crime prostitution district. I wouldn't walk it in broad daylight much less at midnight. I hope Hopkins students are not underestimating the risks that are around them.

"ALL the people murdered in this city deserve the SAME level of attention in the media."

No, they don't really. If a drug dealer gets shot by another drug dealer or a gang member gets stabbed by another gang member, I don't care, because it's one less criminal on the street. But when someone that actually contributes to our society instead of just takes from it, then I care, and I'm going to make noise.

NDresCity is right...To walk from Penn station to his apt on 30th street at 11:30pm on a Sunday night is an epically bad idea. It's a long walk (13+ blocks) through some dark and empty streets in some not-so-great neighborhoods. That he was talking on his cellphone while doing this suggests he really did not appreciate the situation.

Still, I would have guessed he was more or less home free by the time he got to 25th street and the fact that he was murdered less than a block from my house is shocking.

In the end, it seemed like the suspects were out looking for trouble and someone was going to get killed before the night was over, whether it was someone on an ill-advised walk, or just someone taking out the trash or parking their car.

I hope that criminal gets life in prison. He took my friend out of this world. I am especially enraged at that last comment. What kind of world do we live in if it's the victims fault that he's murdered? People should be able to go anywhere are any time. I realize that 's not the case, and that's what is so messed up.

Any violent criminals should be put in prison or seriously rehabed, I can't believe that anyone could take the life of another person, especially such a great one.

Sorry, but it is worse when someone who was doing something useful gets killed. I am not going to pretend anymore that it's just as tragic when a drug dealer gets killed - it's not. Keep up the good reporting. And I hope these useless dregs get what's coming.

New definition for IRONY going into the next Webster's Dictionary.

When criminals commit a hate crime by stating that they were "hunting to rob someone" and that they hurt a "white boy" by stabbing him to death. The irony is that this hate crime took place literally around the corner from the Baltimore NAACP office!

Robbery and murder in the commision of a racially motivated hate crime happened in the 2600 block of St. Paul St. Office of the NAACP is on West 26th Street between Charles and St. Paul. Margaret Brent is a city elementary school in the same block, right by 26th Street! Did anyone clean up the bloody crime scene before school on Monday morning?

Baltimore City Branch
8 West 26th Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218

Telephone: 410-366-3300

I think that had Martin Luther King, Jr. lived he would have long ago distanced himself further from this organization.

It's crazy that we have so many murders in Baltimore City, so many that as we watch the news everyday and hear that another person has been killed on our streets we tend to get numb and de-sensitized especially when the person killed does not have the promised futured of Steven Pitcairn. Not that this is intentional by any means but these are the kinds of lives that are really noticed such as the honor student who has worked so hard in school or the Basketball star with dreams of being Michael Jordon. Fact of the matter is that something needs to be done! The killings are on the rise and we are all just victims in the crosshair of a criminal with no regard for human life and no fear of the justice system. Murders to date in Baltimore City 119 at an avg of murders per month through June 2010 is 16.67. What's the limit and when do we scream to stop the violence.

**Our deepest sympathy to the Pitcairns family**

The Guardian Angels, Baltimore Chapter

Sorry if this starts a new debate, but this is exactly why we need the death penalty, and not the current death penalty but an expidited, limited appeal death penalty.

This animal, already a professional criminal, stabbed and killed this young man in cold blood for no reason, after he already had his wallet and phone. He was caught shortly after the crime with these items - his guilt is undeniable. He does not deserve another day on this planet.

In the ideal world, he would be tried, sentenced and executed in the next 3 months - that would send a message to these low-lifes and gangs.

But, in the real world of Pat Jessamy's Baltimore, he'll get life, maybe even out in 20 years, and we'll feed him, clothe him, give him medical care, TV and even college course work, all paid for by the working, tax paying citizens of Baltimore, Murderland - the same citizens this guy would try to kill again if he were not already caught.

My condolences to the family and friends - but there are really no words to soften this horrible, senseless tragedy.

Those who work at Hopkins or anywhere else in Baltimore and are obliged to spend time out of doors would be well advised to take a firearms course and consider carrying a loaded firearm everywhere. Given the regularity with which Hopkins workers are targeted by street thugs, the State should even consider issuing special concealed carry permits for these individuals. Not that many Hopkins researchers would avail themselves of the opportunity. They're an altruistic bunch and so focused on improving life for humanity that they seem to have too much cognitive dissonance to recognize there are hateful people around them who would kill them for fifty cents.

What a tragic death. Rest in peace, Stephen Pitcairn.

I actually think we should start executions. You kill someone you die yourself. period. If you look at this persons life do you think they are worth keeping around. There are some people who just are not going to change. Should we allow them to kill working people.

Incredible tragedy....and I believe this was a hate crime. As a race , Blacks representing 14% of the population but responsible for 40% of violent predators prey on whites and blacks and destroy the precious young lives of both races. And why? It's liberal great society programs and black race pimps that destroyed the black family and apologized for their violence.
But keep voting in democrats and letting people like Farrakhan and Sharpton speak for you. It's not racism that's turning your cities into's liberal democrat policies that destroy your families and turn your children into thug savages.

The victim's high school teaches Multiculturalism and the head of that program is a black.

What will they tell students about "White Privilege" after this?

There is something else going on maybe no one is seeing. Did these people do this to get a free ride in prison? Gain a badge of honor with the gang? Some other reason?
There is something else going on. This is senseless and stupid and we have got to get to the bottom of it.

The Judge responsible for keeping this thug on the streets and not in jail should be tried for criminal negligence. His incompetence led directly to this young man's death.

Hi- am new to this blog

re discussion of Pitcairn murder (this was originally sent to wypr re a show they had on Friday?)- It applies here as well.

Where is the outrage?!?!? One who did show outrage at the community meeting was Commissioner Bealefied!

God God awmitey

What about the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice? the Mayor's Coordinating Council on Criminal Justice?

Reporters can be passionate and specific as to solutions- just as any one else? How about doing a poll of County and City judges to show us where they stand on leniency? Are reporters afraid of judges? How about getting specific?

How about stories on how Delegate Vallario- a defense attorney- blocks Annapolis measures designed to increase punishments in Baltimore. Is there some- we don't care about thye city- racism there?

If Judge Howard or Pat Jessamey had an ounce of ethics, morality and compassion- wouldn't they resign or step down? BAL reports that Howard "does not return calls"- and you guys don't even mention that?

What about Parole and Probation?

I told ypr that I think in penance "you ought to put a real show together on this issue. Experts you could call? David Miller of Lamarr Shields of the Urban Leadership Institute- tried and trusted experts on black violence in Baltimore. Marc Steiner- who has passion. You, as always, need more from the black community- and you need to cover this issue with much more depth and critical understanding."

Don't you think the black parents of kids killed in cross fires or of kids with promise or of the recently killed black Councilperson would join us ?

One way to build a mass movement is outrage- to a degree- you'd think Jessamey and the Judge would be forced to step down by their peers alone.

Baltimore doesn't get outraged? Doesn't come up with specific solutions?

I don't believe it. Let's not be afraid to point fingers.

I hope Pitcairn's ghost haunts the Judge's court room. And, as well of course- the two scum bags who killed him.

It has always been dangerous there, I have walked through the area myself many times.
However, it seems to me that this attack was racially motivated. The victim gave them his belongings, but they "hurt" him because he was a "white boy."
How are these hate criminals any different from lynch mobs? Where is Al Sharpton? I am waiting.....

What a sad situation . This young man never knew he was in such a dangerous situation . It was bad timing to be there at that moment , but the fact is , the killer should have been kept in jail . He violated probation 3 times and got no more than a " dont do that again " from the system . That is a JOKE . What a failure on the part of the court system and it goes on and on and on . SO SAD .

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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